A Reindeer Herder and Artist

Sheena counting reindeer. Lace is the dark reindeer with her head up and antlers visible.

My involvement  with the reindeer goes  back 30 years when Tilly and Alan were my neighbours and Alex and Fiona where still very wee.

I came up to the Highlands to work at Badaguish Outdoor Centre for people with additional needs before I was due to start a nursing degree . I never left – I fell in love with the mountains, and then a reindeer herder!! And now the reindeer.

Sheena catching up with the free rangers out in the hills.
Sheena bringing back Ochil and her calf Vanilla to the enclosure after they spent the summer free roaming.

My wonderful friendly golden retriever Rosie used to end up at Reindeer House after following any walker passing by my house down at Badaguish. Tilly would phone me and I would often end up there socialising, helping out, then for dinner and end up walking home with Rosie after a wee whisky or two!

 I eventually went  to university but not to study nursing. I did a Honors Fine Art degree in 2004.

Sheena drawing on the hill!

Over the years I have kept in touch with Tilly and the  reindeer, volunteering, an extras pair of hands or legs walking out onto the mountains to help herd in the girls for calving or just going up to spy the herd in the summer months on the mountain.

Several years ago,  I got a call to work with the team and use my artistic talents for ‘Christmas Fun’ (weekends in December when Santa visits the Paddocks). By this time Fiona was all grown up and coordinating all things Christmas and the herd on Cairngorm along with her mum and the team. Now I am just a regular part-timer in the team.

Sheena doing some harness training with the male reindeer.
Sheena and Choc-ice chilling out together.
Sheena driving the Christmas lorry!

So, when I am not a reindeer herder you might find me working in my studio at home as an artist, working on some colorful wild abstract paintings. These days I also work on some reindeer crafts, inspired from my trip to Jokkmokk, Sweden in 2020 with fellow reindeer herders Fiona, Joe, and Olly where we stayed with friend Sofia, Mikel Utsi’s great niece. Inspiration for art was everywhere. The snow, visiting herds of reindeer, northern lights, traditional cloths, and traditional food.

That part of Sweden is the capital of Sami culture in Sweden holding the Sami winter festival, which involve reindeer racing, reindeer parades, and all things Sami culture. And I had a wonderful time in the Sami Museum viewing the traditional arts on show. This was very much my inspiration for small reindeer art and crafts for the shop.

The Jokkmokk crew with borrowed dogs! Fiona, Sheena, Olly and Joe.
Jokkmokk winter market.
Beautiful Sami colours.
Some of Sheena’s wonderful things we sell in the shop!
Sheena’s lovely dogs – Ginger and her mum Elsie on top of our local hill.
Sheena and Oatcake!

Sheena

Sookie Obituary

A couple of months have passed since we lost our old girl, Sookie, I think it’s about time we write about how wonderful a dog she was! Our blogs are of course reindeer related and with Sookie being one of our top ‘reindeer dogs’ she has certainly left her mark here at Reindeer House.

Sookie on her favourite hill, Meall a’ Bhuachaille.
Sookie at Loch Morlich – another favourite haunt!

Sookie joined us here at Reindeer House in June 2009 as a 2 year old. One of our herders at the time comes from an island off the west coast of Scotland and when we showed interest in getting a collie type dog to help manage our free ranging herd of reindeer it happened to be that her sister, who is a farmer on this island, had a wee collie suited for the job so along came Sookie. At first she was fairly timid; a classic collie! Coming from island life with her mum and brother she was certainly chucked in at the deep end and she wouldn’t let just anyone stroke her and was certainly shy of men, even giving them the classic collie nip on the back of the legs as they walked by. But as time passed Sookie settled in wonderfully and Reindeer House became her forever home. Many herders passed through the door during Sookie’s 14 years with us. She particularly knew how to ‘woo’ the men. I think most of them thought they were the only one… little did they know she had those puppy dog eyes for most of them. What a gal!

Tiree, Moskki and Sookie.
Sookie out on a ski tour with Ruth, Lotti and Fiona.

For the first few years she had a kennel outside which she went into at night. Sookie never barked and was always a quiet character – my wee terrier, Misty, had enough voice for both of them and she ruled the roost! I lost Misty in 2014 and then Tiree, my Aussie Shepherd, joined the Reindeer House team. Sookie was always such a push over that even Tiree as a puppy seemed to be more dominant than her. But as unassuming as she was she just cracked on with life, nothing seemed to faze her. She was many a herders ‘chosen dog’ when it came to big hill days, gentle strolls to the loch or camping trips. Always super reliable and extremely loveable.

Sookie enjoying a snooze in the back of Fiona’s van.
Tip, Tiree, Murdo and Sookie, all raring to go!
Tip, Sookie, Moskki, Tiree and Murdo.

She taught Tiree how to be the perfect reindeer dog. Waiting for long periods of time next to a rock on the open mountain for us herders to return with the herd. The longest I left them was 3 hours and they were still in the exact same spot on my return. If their presence was required to push the reindeer off of land they weren’t meant to be, this was always done with upmost control. They’d also wait at the visitor gate going into our enclosure while we were doing morning feeds. And as Sookie got older Tiree took on that role and now herself is training the next generation so thanks Sookie for helping!

A young Tiree, learning the ropes from Sookie.
Tiree, Fiona and Sookie on the old Utsi Bridge…
…and the same trio on the new Utsi Bridge!

Everyday Sookie would mound around outside our shop and exhibition area. She’d never stray and if people wanted to stroke her she’d just move away. She wasn’t for being fussed by strangers, however, she did love it when they threw her sticks… again classic collie! So she’d drop sticks next to people’s feet in the hope they take her up on this game. And of course who could resist. As she got older and a bit stiffer with age she could still wander around outside our shop but she had to wear a jacket saying ‘please don’t throw me sticks’ as the sharp movements were taking their toll on her body and she would come in a bit stiff in the evenings. She was so confused to why people had stopped throwing her sticks, poor girl, but it was the best thing for her. Instead she’d spend more time in and about Reindeer House and as she grew much older she just slept a lot.

Some of you may remember when she went missing for 4-5 days back in September 2018. She was out hill walking with a friend and as he headed up the hill and over a ridge he suddenly realised Sookie was nowhere to be seen. This was pretty out of character and for days we were out searching and wondering what had happened her. Then on day 5 there was a report of a dog at a farm and low and behold it was Sookie! She was extremely delighted to see us and the reindeer herding world was delighted to see her fine and well. Ever since that incident Sookie did have some separation issues, understandably. So leaving her in the evenings home alone meant she would bark sometimes so we fitted it into our life and worked around her so she was never alone.

More ski touring fun. Just like the reindeer, the dogs also follow our ski tracks.
Sookie taking a rest on a ski tour.

In her last 6 months she aged quite quickly. She would always pootle along on a nice flat walk around Glenmore but sometimes we’d head out with her and get 100 meters into the walk to find Sookie had decided to go home. That was fine, it was always her decision. On other days she’d bound along like she was a puppy so there was life in the old dog yet. Sookie never really had one particular owner, however, myself being the main constant person throughout her 14 years of living at Reindeer House I guess I became her ‘go to’ person and she became quite attached to me. I think on days I was away or on holiday she would pace around the house looking for me. She did settle though, usually in the office where there was always someone around so if she woke up she knew she wasn’t alone. For her last six months Lotti and I would have to sleep with our bedroom doors open because if Sookie got to a closed door and couldn’t get in then she’d bark. If however the door was open and she could see us in bed she’d settle and go to sleep. Things you do for an old dog but when these pets are in your life, sometimes longer than people are, they become part of the family and for family we do anything so Sookie had it pretty good really.

Tiree, Ruadh and Sookie enjoying themselves at one of their favourite lochs.

Although she may have gone on for another few months she did slow down and lose a lot of weight in her last few weeks so one of the hardest decisions had to be made but for the right reasons. She had a fantastic life with so many wonderful people in it and she went with her dignity intact – 16 is a great age for any dog and she was never unwell. Tiree has some pretty big boots to fill which from a reindeer dog perspective she’s there and her loyalty is something extremely special. Fraoch, our 18 month old collie now with us at Reindeer House has got a good way to go yet so thanks Sookie for setting such a high bar! It’s been great and now we have lots of lovely memories and photos to remember her by. Slainte Mhath old girl and thanks for being my best friend for the past 14 years!

Fiona

Photo blog: January 2023

This year I will endeavor to make the last blog of the month a photo blog with a collection of pictures taken over the month. So here’s some highlights from January! A month when the Centre shuts and we crack on with lots of office work and general maintenance tasks such as painting the Exhibition floor and oiling the Christmas harness. But inevitably, I don’t take any photos of that stuff, so instead it’s just lots of lovely pics of reindeer!

1st of January – the Centre is closed for the day but the reindeer in the enclosure still need feeding so we recruit lots of friends to help carry the load!
2nd of January – Sheena and Choc-ice chilling out together after a Hill Trip.
7th of January – Arta looking handsome on the winter free range. With older brother Dr Seuss and younger brother Mr Whippy, Arta sometimes gets out-shined by his charismatic siblings but here he is looking fab!
7th of January – talking of the charismatic Dr Seuss, here he is getting bored waiting for his free lunch and using the quadbike as a chin rest!
12th of January – Hopscotch (closest to camera) and Pumpkin (on the left) are often the first over each time we call them for lunch.
14th of January – Beanie looking gorgeous!
14th of January – Amy and Lotti defending the feed bags from the older reindeer. Only calves are invited in to the bags for a wee bit of preferential feeding!
January 15th – Sheena calling the herd over in very wintery conditions.
15th of January- Morven and her calf Mochi looking beautiful in the snow.
16th of January – more free range fun for Lisette and Lotti. Holy Moley making her presence known right by the feed bags!
16th of January – the four gorgeous Reindeer House dogs – Fraoch, Dug, Tiree and Sookie. They accompany us on most free-range feeding outings, and are trained to lie-down and stay far away so as the reindeer do not see them, until we return to them.
20th of January -two of my favourite things- reindeer and skiing! Fly and Lace leading the whole herd and following in our ski tracks. Nice to see some blue sky.
24th of January – no skis required anymore! Mel waiting for the herd to come over – and yes, it’s Hopscotch leading the way again!
24th of January- Pip and Turtle – two of our ‘lockdown calves’ from 2020. Hard to believe they’ll be turning three in the spring!
24th of January – Marple teaching her daughter Viennetta the art of cheekiness.
27th of January -and finally, to prove we actually do some “proper” work in January here’s Hen cleaning the shop walls ready for a lick of paint!

Ruth

December 2022: photo blog!

For this week’s blog, I’ve uploaded a heap of photographs found on my phone during this particularly busy month to give a brief snapshot of what goes on in the life of a reindeer herder. Turns out I don’t take many photographs whilst I’m sat in front of a computer answering emails so the photos are quite biased to all the fun times I’ve had out and about. Thankfully this makes for a much more enjoyable blog… lots of pictures of reindeer!

3rd of December – Sunny making sure Fiona and I have all our bags before heading away on Christmas tour!
3rd of December – Later that day the reindeer enjoying a nap after a parade though Aberfeldy, Sunny completely flaked out!
8th of December – Feeding the free ranging herd. Okapi is always first over and is such a poser! What a beautiful lass.
9th of December – lots of shovelling and gritting every morning!
9th of December – Juniper and Fab enjoying the snow! Mother and daughter doing super well.
9th of December -Sorbet (Brie’s calf) digging through the snow. What a cutie!
10th of December – Joe and Emily-Kate feeding the herd their breakfast.
11th of December – at the back of a Hill Trip. What perfect winter conditions!
11th of December – Harry and Zoom being all cute!
11th of December – moving the herd from the ‘Bottom Corridor’, back out to the ‘East Enclosure’ after the last visit of the day.
11th of December – Santa in our Paddocks with the handsome Berlin! (Photo by Joe).
12th of December – blue skies and no wind! A spell of amazing winter wonderland conditions!
12th of December – Beanie seeing if we have anymore food going… she lives in constant hope there’s another morsel for her!
13th of December – the Reindeer House dogs waiting outside the enclosure. 15 year old Sookie in her lovely warm coat!
16th of December – Holy Moley and the free ranging herd brought themselves into the enclosure for a free lunch!
16th of December – Mardi making sure the Reindeer House dogs are also not neglected and get a wee treat!
17th of December – the reindeer were completely unfazed by a huge T-rex looming over their pen at Landmark, Carrbridge!
17th of December – Santa leading Poirot during the event at Landmark.

Ruth

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 2: April 2022

Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.

This is the second installment of Emm’s blog. Read part one by clicking here.

Dogs

It was my first time meeting Reindeer House’s new Border Collie puppy called Fraoch. It was also my first time meeting Ben H’s dog called Dug and Amy’s dog.

One evening after work, me, Sheena, Amy and Innis took the dogs on a walk. With Elsie and Ginger (Sheena’s dogs), Fraoch and Amy’s dog we walked up the hill on the track and we walked down through a forest near Meall a’Bhuachaille just behind Reindeer House.  It was a lovely special walk.

Elsie, Ginger, Dug and Tiree.

Reindeer

Sherlock was growing his antlers so fast when I was there. It was so amazing how much they had grown since I had arrived. It was one of the fastest antler growth the herd has ever seen and could be on par with Crann who had the biggest ever set of antlers in the herd.

Emm hand feeding Sherlock.

Some of the reindeer were losing antlers at this time of year. Lulu lost an antler when she was in the paddocks. In the hill enclosure, Cannellini was eating from a pile of food. Sambar came over to Cannellini and kicked her hoof at him to say it was her food now. But when she kicked her hoof, it hit Cannellini’s antler and it came off. It was the first time I had ever seen a reindeer’s antler being kicked off. Fava lost an antler in the forest paddock where the paddock reindeer sleep at night down at the centre. Me and Amy went on a mission to find it and managed to find it near the stream when poo picking!

Emm being mobbed by Dr Seuss, Sherlock and Butter.

Reindeer Herding

In the hill enclosure, there are different areas used to separate the reindeer. Sometimes the reindeer are in the bottom corridor in the day and in the east enclosure at night. One morning, me and Hen moved the hill enclosure reindeer from the east enclosure part to the bottom corridor part. It is really lovely as we get to call them and they come running down as they know it is breakfast time. I led them through with my food bag whilst Hen pushed them from the back. Then we fed them and counted them. Most mornings, I got to go up and help move them and give them their breakfast.

One afternoon, me and Lotti moved the hill enclosure reindeer from the bottom corridor to the east enclosure. I led them through with my food bag whilst Lotti pushed them from the back. We fed them and counted them. Most afternoons after the hill visit, we move them and give them their tea which I helped with most of the time. It was so lovely to spend some time quietly with the reindeer. On one afternoon visit, after we spent some time with the reindeer and visitors in the bottom corridor, Ruth and me moved the reindeer whilst the visitors were there and the visitors came along and watched us give the reindeer their tea.

Ruth, Dr Seuss and Emm.

One morning, the free-rangers had split into 2 groups a bigger group and smaller group. The next day, after the hill visit in the afternoon, Andi went in search of the smaller group of free-rangers and found them. She managed to get the smaller group of reindeer to follow her and she managed to join the 2 groups together so the free-rangers were all together once again.

Tilly’s Farm

On my last day, Olly and me went to Tilly’s farm where we met Tilly. The Reindeer Centre has a base there. We went in ‘Brenda’ (the livestock truck). We took Cannellini, Butter, Fava, Dr Seuss, Celt, Kiruna and Spartan to the farm. We filled up bags of dark grains (a by-product from the whisky industry used for animal feed) from a massive funnel in one of the barns as the Reindeer Centre needed some more bags of dark grains and got some more lichen from the shed as the reindeer needed more lichen. We loaded Brenda with the dark grains and lichen. We moved the reindeer to the other reindeer at the farm, they followed me and Tilly on the quad bike which Tilly was driving and Olly herded them from the back. We checked all the reindeer at the farm temperatures and injected them if they had a high temperature.  We put some Spot-On on to protect them from ticks.  I helped with holding the reindeer. Legume had a really high temperature so we separated him and Jelly from the rest of the reindeer in the shed and gave them some lichen so Tilly could keep an eye on them. Jelly was there to keep Legume company.  We picked out 2 reindeer to take back to the Reindeer Centre who were Frost and Olmec. I led Frost and Olly led Olmec to Brenda. The older male reindeer were free-ranging on the hills by the farm so I didn’t see them. Tilly, me and Olly went on the quad bike which Tilly was driving and Tilly took us to see the pigs, wild boars and piglets which was great fun. Tilly and Olly fed them. We also saw the red deer and the Belted Galloway cows. We also saw the Soay sheep with their lambs and Tilly fed them. Eventually we took Frost and Olmec back to the Reindeer Centre in Brenda.

Emm leading Frost.

Opening the Gate onto the Free-range

When we got back from the farm, we did a paddock reindeer swap. Frost and Olmec went into the paddocks and Me and Amy took Lulu and Gazelle up to the hill enclosure and I led them both. That morning, my herder friends went to the hill enclosure and they split all the pregnant females off from the non-pregnant reindeer ready for calving. The non-pregnant reindeer went into the top corridor in the hill enclosure ready to go out on the free-range.  Me and Amy took Gazelle and Lulu into the top corridor with the others and Amy opened the gate on to the free-range. When the reindeer were ready, they would go out on to the free-range. Ben H had realised that Roule had lost an antler that morning in the bottom corridor when splitting the reindeer up, so Amy and me went and had a look for it which Amy found.

Emm with Lulu and Gazelle.

Other Exciting Things I Did

On Easter Sunday, the Easter Bunny had put mini eggs all around Reindeer House which was very exciting. I kept finding mini eggs.

I helped restock the shop. I put price labels on the photo frames for the shop.

I talked to visitors in the paddocks and I identified a reindeer for one of its adopters.

Me, Mum and Dad went out with my herder friends and Sookie for a meal at the Pine Marten Bar which was really lovely and I really enjoyed it.  I once again had such a fantastic 10 days with my lovely friends, all the animals and of course the reindeer.

I am so looking forward to my next trip in October 2022 !!!!

Emm

Reindeer House Dogs – Winter 2022

This winter there seems to have been a lot of dogs both resident and visiting Reindeer House. Starting with the long-term residents and dogs you’ll all know well we have Sookie and Tiree. Sookie will be 15 this year. She still gets out and about joining us on walks and slow (Fiona) runs around Glenmore. She even manages to get up our local hill Meall a Bhuachaille. It’s around 5.5km with a 450m accent. She picks and chooses the days she wants to join us. If we leave with a lot of other dogs or it looks like we are going to be walking too fast for her then she sometimes turns around about 100m into the walk and comes home. We’ve left it up to her nowadays and she probably joins us around 50% of the time. If it’s too hot that day she also chooses to stay back. Otherwise, her day mainly consists of sleeping, which if I was 15 years old (105 in human years) I’d be doing exactly the same.

Sookie enjoying a relaxed pace of life at Loch Morlich beach.

Tiree is my (Fiona’s) dog, though Joe may try to claim her! She joined our team in 2014 and is 7 years old now. Being one of the most energetic ones of the household she needs lots of exercise. Unfortunately she is a bit reactive so if someone is going for a walk/run which is in a busy area she has to stay home but without a doubt will get out later on with someone after work or if folk are doing a quieter walk. She’s a fantastic hill dog and makes sure her hill crew are together, often joining the person who is furthest back in the group. She joins in our ski, run and biking adventures. She’s even pretty good at swimming! As she lives outside she has a very thick coat on her and LOVES the winter and snow so she is in her element just now.

Fiona with Tiree and newest resident Fraoch.

Another resident at Reindeer House just now is Dug. He belongs to herder Ben H and what a great addition he has been to the dog team. He’s 9 year’s old and with such a lovely, friendly nature he wouldn’t say boo to a ghost! With an overshot jaw and an unusually long tongue he often has his tongue sticking out uncontrollably which only adds to his lovely character! A few of the herders refer to him as Mr Long Tongue, or the Anteater. Joining us in November for the winter season, Ben and Dug have fallen for the area and will now be sticking around for the next year at least!

Dug aka Mr Long Tongue.

Newest arrival to Reindeer House is Fraoch (Gaelic for Heather) belonging to Joe and Fiona. She is a Border Collie pup, born in November 2021 so still very young! Although the other dogs grumble at her she has fitted in wonderfully and although Tiree would deny it just now I’m sure the two of them will be as thick as thieves in a few months…. Or maybe years? Lol

Sookie, Fiona and wee Fraoch.
Tiree, Dug, Sookie and Ginger patiently waiting at the enclosure fence.

We then have the regular visitors through herders visiting and working. Tilly has her two border terrors… I mean terriers, Moskki and Tuva, who are totally devoted to her. Sheena also has a mother and daughter combo in her golden retrievers, Elsie and Ginger. Tip is Alex and Emily’s dog who pops in now and again, she is a New Zealand Huntaway and very loyal, though has a very, very loud voice. I think it’s getting louder as she gets older. Maybe her hearing is going and she needs to go into more effort to be heard! Mel took on Skip, a collie x Australian Kelpie, in 2021. The two of them are a perfect match with their energy levels and seem to have endless amount of it as they always seem to be out running, skiing or biking. With her first few months being brought up with Alex, Emily and Tip she knows Reindeer House well and fits in great. Ben B often takes Mable to work with him who is a lovely golden lab. Though I think if she had a watch she’d be clock watching for when Ben takes her home at night. I think Reindeer House is just a bit too overwhelming and prefers the quiet, less chaotic life with Ben and Jess at home. Saying that she’s easily won over with a tasty biscuit or decent walk.

2 mother-daughter pairs: Tilly and Fiona with Moskki and Tuva (not forgetting Tiree!)
Herders on top of Meall a Bhuachaille with Sookie and Elsie.
Ginger and Tiree – such posers!
Tiree and Ginger – posing again.
Tiree and Tip.
Skip always full of energy!

As well as all these regulars we have friends visiting who tend to come with their dog in toe including Mara, Foss and Ruadh. Also this winter friends from down south were staying for a few days and they had an enormous Golden Retriever called Sam who I think it’s safe to say he was actually a Polar Bear, not a dog! Dennis also came to visit who belongs to ex-herder Ryan. Dennis is actually one of Moskki’s pups from 2019 so it’s always nice to see him and he’s very similar to his mum. Seasonal herder Sally pops up from the lakes now and again and brings Midge her 4.5 year old collie with her.

Ruadh, Tiree and Mable.
Foss, Tiree and Sookie.
Tiree with her pal Mara.
Ruadh, Sam the Polar Bear, and Fraoch.
Tiree, Sookie and Moskki.

So as you can see it’s more of a Dog Centre than Reindeer Centre. All the dogs get on just fine, with the inevitable grumble here and there, but that’s mainly from Tiree as she’s the unsociable one. But no fighting, that’s the main thing. Fraoch is getting on just fine with them all and learning fast how to socialise with them individually.

Enjoy all the lovely dog photos taken over the years of this motley crew! Herders and dogs!

Fiona and Joe with Tuva, Shadow, Moskki, Tiree, Ruadh and Sookie at the Cairngorm Dog Centre!

Fiona

A Jolly January!

As many of you know we close for 4-5 weeks between the school holidays in January / February. This year some of my colleagues had lots of exciting places to go lined up – Thailand, Namibia, New Zealand, Wales and for me just bonny Scotland! Myself, Hen and Andi were the (hard) core staff over this period and a few others roped in on the odd day to help feed the reindeer. Carrying 6 buckets of feed out on your own is impossible so Tilly, Alex, Olly, Andy and Sheena were around to help out as well.

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Olly and I leading the reindeer out of the mountain enclosure for the winter. Tiree, my collie, adding another skill to reindeer dogs by carrying a wee bit of reindeer food to help lighten my load.

Once we are closed we don’t use our mountain enclosure so Olly and I had the pleasure of taking the reindeer out onto the free range once we had shut up shop! We were seeing them pretty much everyday giving them a good feed to manage where they were during this time. They would move around a fair bit but never said no to a tasty bag of feed when we called them. With only the odd small dump of snow this was pretty easy to access the hills which meant we had some lovely walks out to find and feed the reindeer. On these walks out we could take the dogs, as long as they were well behaved! I was dog sitting for friends on holiday in New Zealand so Frankie was a new addition to being a ‘reindeer dog’ and she took to it very well. Our dogs are trained to sit and stay wherever we ask them for the duration we are off in the distance feeding the reindeer but Frankie had to be tethered, she wasn’t quite as savvy yet but she waited patiently. For ten days I was on my own with help from a crew of folk to carry feed onto the hill for me. Turns out with her paniers on Tiree (my collie) can also carry a wee bit of food… every little helps! It’s quite weird being the only one in work… extra tea breaks! Don’t tell the boss 😉

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Tiree and Frankie waiting while we go off to feed the reindeer (top left). Fiona leading Okapi with an improvised head collar (top right). Tiree and Sookie doing office work with me (bottom left). Three of the oldest girls in the her – Tambourine (17 years old), Tuppence (16) and Lilac (18).

On one occasion, it was actually a day off, we (myself, Tilly, Olly and Holly) went for a morning run up onto Cairngorm as it was such a lovely day. We took our pack of hounds and needless to say they had an absolute ball. On route we spotted a wee group of reindeer we hadn’t seen in a week or so, so Tilly and Holly carried on back to the car with all the dogs, being as reindeer and dogs don’t mix, while Olly and I went to see which ones they were and see if we could persuade them to follow us down, knowing we had no reindeer related useful items to catch or lure them with. We called them over and they came straight away, no questions asked. As they got closer they were a bit confused to begin with as we weren’t in the same reindeer herding attire they are used to, however we certainly sounded like reindeer herders so good old Okapi was first up to sus us out. All I had to pretend it was reindeer food was an empty packet of Haribo (of course it was empty) so I rustled it around, pretending it was reindeer food and low and behold she fell for it. So now I’m in the position to put a head collar on her… only problem was we didn’t have a head collar. So Olly whipped off his belt, I rolled up my jacket and she wore the belt like a collar and my jacket acted as a lead rope. It worked a treat and she followed like a lamb. The others followed too so we brought them a bit closer to home where Andi then met us with some actual reindeer food, not Haribo!

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Feeding the herd on a beautiful sunny day with the northern corries in the background (top left). Moskki, Tiree and Murdoch enjoying their mountain runs (top right). Fiona with Moskki in a rucksack as Moskki tries to have a lick of an antler while still attached to the reindeer’s head (bottom left). Hill running with the hounds (bottom right).

So we are back in business here at the Reindeer Centre. Shop and paddocks are open and we are doing our daily guided tour up to see the herd on the hill. The chosen reindeer to spend a couple of weeks in the paddocks are Sambar, Hopper, Hobnob, Jenga, Israel and Inca. They’ll be back on the hill once schools go back. Everyday we wander out to locate the herd and with our lack of snow at the moment that is very easy indeed.

Fiona

Landrovers and lovely locations

Here at the Reindeer Centre, unsurprisingly, requests for some modelling reindeer are not uncommon, particularly around the Christmas season. Of course a change of scenery is always exciting for both reindeer and herders, most of the photo shoots and filming sets can be of a similar ilk. However, when we got a call from Land Rover, asking if a few members of our herd could star in a photo shoot up in the hills on the banks of Loch Ordie, we felt that this was something neither us, nor the reindeer, should miss out on.

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Loch Ordie

And so on a beautiful, frosty and cold morning, off we set with four Christmas boys, two herders and two dogs, with a very optimistic, yet slightly unrealistic hope of coming away with a brand spanking new Land Rover.

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Fiona and Origami admiring the view

Two hours south on the A9 and 6 miles of forest track later in Land Rover convoy, we arrived on set to find a wee flat-pack log cabin (much like a tent, yet wooden making it slightly more cumbersome, and a little more painful if you sat up quickly whilst in bed), two small children in reindeer onesies, an incredibly tall elf and a very sparkly (and reflective) Land Rover sport.

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Jonas getting into the festive spirit with Christmas lights

After the reindeer experienced several hours of tempting handfuls of lichen, reflection admiring/ suspicious glances, manoeuvring and a lot of snapping, darkness began to set in and it was time to head from one hill and back to another.

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Tiree waiting patiently to get home

We were careful to make sure we loaded the actual reindeer as opposed to the imposters.

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Which reindeer are we supposed to be loading again?

Our hairy team shone out as being the most patient of all the models there, captivating everyone on set, especially the two antler-less ones, who were over the moon when they got to charge down some of the forest track.

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Tiree and Sookie after their run

So at the end of the day, alas no new Land Rover, but two very proud reindeer herders!

Eve

Starting a new life

Just over a week ago, I waved goodbye to my work colleagues in London, where I’d lived for eleven years, jumped in a van, and travelled the 500 miles (so cliche!) to Glenmore to begin my new life at Reindeer House.

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Last day in London

Three years volunteering with the herd during holidays seeded the thought of moving at the back of my mind. Late in 2015 I thought, “What am I waiting for?” and decided to up sticks, leave my lovely job and lovely colleagues, and life in the city.

Corries
A view of the corries

Waking up to snow-covered hills and a single stream of cars heading for the ski slopes is slightly different to the hordes of people packed onto commuter trains and tubes heading for their glass and steel open-plan offices.

Plateau
Up on the plateau with Sookie

Sookie
Snowy selfies!

Mountains, forests, and fresh air give so much, which cities simply cannot give you – despite the parks and open spaces and being outdoors. The landscape here gives and teaches different things, as equally important, and gives a different outlook on life.

Plants
How I now spend my evenings – learning about plants with Sookie asleep nearby!

I am looking forward to making my way here!

Sarah

A Reindeer Herder’s Job in January

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Expectant reindeer – food is always welcome!

You all know Christmas is our busy time of year, however you also know that reindeer are not just for Christmas, so what happens after all the commercial pursuits we undertake and those many visits onto the hill throughout the year…? Well, this is a reindeer herder’s favourite time of the year as the Centre is closed and for once in the year we feel like we can start to get back on top of things!

First and most important job is to get the reindeer into their correct locations for the winter. They are split between the Cromdale hills over near our Glenlivet hill farm and here on Cairngorm. We don’t use our mountain enclosure from January through to April/May (in time for calving). It’s a time of year reindeer are in their absolute element and what this species is all about – the cold, snow and thick winter coats. The split tends to be boys to the Cromdales and girls on Cairngorm however some females do also go onto the Cromdales as well.

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Santana leading the herd up – single file through the snow to save energy.

We still like to see the reindeer everyday so we know where they are and therefore we feed and check them every morning. This means heading up and spying from our various points along the hill road where we get the best views of their hot spots. A reindeer herder’s eye is well trained and can spot the reindeer way before anyone else. A lot of the time we don’t even reach for the binoculars – we just know the lay of the land so well that we know which ‘reindeer shaped rocks’ are indeed rocks and which ones are actually the reindeer! The weather has a big part to play in this so no snow means we find the reindeer quickly, lots of snow means the darker reindeer stick out, however that annoying mottled, patchy snow is the worst to spot reindeer in as they are so camouflaged. High winds keep them off the high tops and closer to the tree line, sunny weather often means they are happy just to have a chilled out day soaking it up… just like us!

Feeding the herd
Mel hefting just some of the daily rations – it certainly keeps us fit lugging feed out into the mountains!

So once found we head out and give them a good feed, count and check them. Even the dogs benefit from this part as they get to come part of the way out. Obviously they can’t mix with the reindeer however Sookie and Tiree are both now trained to wait wherever we ask them. Sometimes we are feeding and checking the reindeer and look back to the dogs and all we see is their wee faces poking above the heather watching our every move and the reindeer don’t even notice them!

Dogs in the snow
Sometimes the dogs look all majestic… (Tiree, Moskki and Sookie)

Windblown dogs
… sometimes not so much! Looking windblown – Murdo, Sookie and Tiree

Once the morning is complete and reindeer fed and checked its back down to the centre to complete our long list of ‘January Jobs’. This may be painting the exhibition floor in the paddocks, fixing fences and gates, oiling the Christmas harness (ready to pack away for another year), going through every single event folder and reading all the reports, making up adoption packs, cleaning, packing away the endless decorations put up at Christmas etc, etc, etc… But being closed means we can also make the most of the good weather. If the sun is shining and snow conditions allow some of us keen skiers head for the hills for a day on the snow! Needless to say the dogs like this part too as they get to come along. This does turn us into fair weather skiers, however we spend plenty of time in the hills being blown off our feet and getting soaked to the bone, to pick and choose when we can go skiing only seems fair!

The honeymoon must come to an end though so on the 6th February we re-open our doors and get back to our daily routine of 11am guided tours. It’s all fine and well it being a nice time of year for us herders but we wouldn’t have this job if it wasn’t for our many visitors to the Centre supporting our lovely herd of reindeer in the Cairngorms!

Fiona

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